Shootings on the night of March 17th at three Atlanta area day spas led to the deaths of eight people, six of whom are women of Asian descent. This tragic loss of lives occurred amid a recent wave of attacks against Asian Americans.
There is a long history of racist rhetoric and physical attacks against Asian Americans. However, since the coronavirus pandemic started a year ago in the United States, there have been over 3,000 hate incidents against Asian Americans.
For more than 160 years, people of Asian descent have been living in the United States. Drawing on a March 18, 2021, article in the Washington Post, here are some of the many acts of racism and violence that Asians and Asian Americans have suffered from in the United States. In the 1850s, when Chinese immigrants began coming to America, especially to California and other western states, a frequently heard statement was that the Chinese were stealing White jobs. In California, in People vs Hall, the superior court ruled that no one of Asian descent could testify against a White person in court.
In 1871 when a White man was caught in the crossfire between rival Chinese groups, the small Chinese community in Los Angeles was attacked and at least 17 Chinese men and boys were lynched by White and Hispanic rioters. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act that banned Chinese immigration for twenty years.
After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, thousands of Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps for the duration of World War II. Conditions in the camps were not fit for any people, and once they were freed from these camps, many Japanese Americans found that their homes and businesses had been vandalized and confiscated. In 1988, survivors of those camps received an apology from the president of the United States and $20,000 in reparations.
When the war in Vietnam ended, many Vietnamese came to the U.S. In Texas, many Vietnamese men found jobs in the shrimping industry. Once again, the trope spread that Asians were stealing White peoples’ jobs. After being trained how to do commando-style attacks by Louis Beam, a leader of the Ku Klux Klan, wearing their white robes and hoods, Ku Klux Klan patrolled the waters and set boats on fire that were owned by Vietnamese fishermen.
On June 19, 1982, Vincent Chin, a young Chinese American was celebrating his upcoming marriage with friends in Detroit. Two White men picked a fight and began blaming Vincent Chin for what they said was the way “the Japanese” were taking their auto-industry jobs. The White men beat Vincent Chin with a baseball bat. Chin’s death several days later and the extraordinarily lenient ruling by a judge of probation and a $3,000 fine for the White men who murdered a 27-year-old Chinese man, helped to galvanize the Asian American community across ethnic lines to demand their civil rights.
On April 29, 1992, police officers caught on camera beating Rodney King triggered riots in Los Angeles. The same month that the beating of Rodney King was caught on camera, a Korean store owner in South Los Angeles shot and killed Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old African American girl who was accused of trying to steal orange juice. It was later proven that this 15-year-old girl was clutching money to pay for the orange juice when she was killed. The store owner received probation and a $500 fine. And tensions between Black Americans and Korean Americans in Los Angeles erupted in riots and Korean American businesses were targets of Black American rioters.
Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, there was a spike in hate crimes against Muslims and people perceived to be Muslims, including people of South Asian descent. Four days after the 9/11 attacks, Frank Silva Roque, an aircraft mechanic, murdered Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh American gas station owner who was originally from India. Roque mistook Balbir Singh Sodhi as a Muslim.
After March 2020, when the coronavirus was identified in the United States, President Trump and others referred to the pandemic as “the Chinese virus,” the Wuhan virus” and “the Kung flu.” This kind of rhetoric is known to trigger racism and violence against marginalized communities.
This recounting of the violence and racism against Asian Americans echoes many of the horrific experiences of African Americans and other marginalized communities. And the systemic sexism that haunts Asian American women also haunts Black women and other women of color. Any hate crime against anyone must be condemned and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.
The National Council of Negro Women, Inc. stands firmly in solidarity with the Asian American community, just as we are in solidarity with our own community and any other community that is the victim of systemic racism, sexism, and any other system of inequality. To paraphrase Dr. Maya Angelou, the truth is that none of us are safe until all of us are safe.
Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Ph.D.
Chair and 7th National President